SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
•Breezango & Isaiah “Swerve” Scott vs. Legado del Fantasma, street fight
The tornado tag weapons format of this opener alleviates the risk of feeling like NXT has already been there and done that with these three-man teams. It also places six talented wrestlers in a situation that recalls, say, the Hardcore Championship schmoz from WrestleMania 2000. So mileage is going to vary, but I do hate to see Swerve in particular reduced to this, no matter how many times we saw him bump on thumbtacks or take staple guns to the chest prior to his signing. With Swerve pinning Escobar and Imperium interfering to attack Breezango, the match also signals wheel-spinning continuations of feuds that felt as though they had finished last week. These issues are not routine for NXT, so I won’t wave a giant red flag. Still, “it’s just guys doing stuff” falls well short of the brand’s par.
•Kacy Catanzaro vs. Candice LeRae
After finally investing me in LeRae’s overarching Tegan Nox feud with last week’s passive-aggressive heel-framed video package, this week’s syrupy face-framed video preceding this match felt very redundant for the Nox character. Thankfully there’s no need to fret, as following her victory LeRae brought me right back in with a promo accepting Nox’ invitation to hash out their issues over dinner. I didn’t expect NXT to follow through on that blink-and-miss-it invitation, but following the unique thread presents Nox with perhaps her best opportunity to endear herself to the audience yet. As for the enhancement match itself, it was sufficient in reminding us of LeRae’s new “Wicked Stepsister” finish. Catanzaro has grown notably in her role since her hiatus, and finds herself a strong candidate for an eventual 1-2-3 Kid moment.
•Mercedes Martinez & Rhea Ripley backstage promos
In a pair of brief, no-nonsense segments, Ripley challenged Martinez to a cage match and Martinez accepted. Simple and effective. The enticing scenario has me deliberating multiple means by which the unexpected stipulation could either cap off or extend this hierarchy-defining feud.
•Bronson Reed vs. Timothy Thatcher
Last week saw Thatcher stepping to Damian Priest, and Austin Theory returning as an agitator to spark a mini-feud with Reed, so it was no mystery this unofficial North American Championship #1 contender match would conclude with the former going over thanks to interference by the latter. Still, helped by a souped-up new entrance and a more imposing nickname (“The Colossal”), Reed used the opportunity to continue exhibiting his strengths as NXT continues exhibiting confidence in him.
•Finn Balor vs. Tommaso Ciampa vs. Adam Cole vs. Johnny Gargano, 60-minute iron man match for the vacated NXT Championship
I don’t want to rake NXT too hard, seeing as they were thrown a curveball with Karrion Kross’ TakeOver injury and on rapid turnaround they’ve managed to create major reasons to tune in to their TV multiple weeks in a row. That said, even with realistically tempered expectations going in, this “biggest match in NXT history” failed to deliver on nearly every level. As expected, the wrestlers paced themselves. As expected, at most points two of them were laying out at ringside. And with the commercial interruptions considered, I also expected the 1-1-1-1 tie going in to the final break. What I did not expect was that no underlying narrative nor periodic heightening of the action was woven in to add to the detrimentally measured proceedings. I went into today’s column aiming to break up this encompassing main event with a separate hit or miss for each robust wrestler, but even the individualization among them was such an afterthought that there’s simply nothing to delineate. Gargano scored his fall by stealing a pin, and that was the most characterization we got all hour long. As suggested, the 2-2 tie finish is at least wise to string this out one further week for the sake of intrigue. While I’ve been calling Balor to win, I’m unsure another babyface-leaning tweener in Cole is the right choice of opponent. It’s also odd to see an iron man match bowing to television time constraint and going the route of Bret and Lex at the Rumble as opposed to Bret and Shawn at WrestleMania. Again, it is understood that this championship angle was done on short notice while likely balancing existing plans for the returning Ciampa and the on-the-rocks Undisputed Era, but a dull match is a dull match, especially when it takes up half of a two-hour program.